By Mellany Armstrong
Shoalyn Brown first became interested in fashion when she saw actress Raven-Symoné’s clothing line in a Walmart.
“I was very young, maybe in third or fourth grade,” Brown said. “I knew she was a bigger woman, and growing up, my proportions haven’t always been the standard size.” Brown said she also wanted to see more people of color – people who looked like her – in fashion.
“I didn’t see much of that, so when Raven-Symoné came out with her collection, I was so psyched,” she recalled. “I bought some nice stuff!”
Brown, who will graduate with a degree in Fashion Design in May, got her first sewing machine when she was in tenth grade. She took sewing classes at Temple University and watched YouTube videos to teach herself.
“I became the leader of the fashion club in high school, and I worked closely with the teacher to put on the annual fashion show,” she said. She enjoyed sewing simple two-piece outfits from African-print fabric. She took summer classes and learned to use a serger, and how to dye and manipulate fabric.
Brown chose Moore because she felt its small size would allow her more flexibility on her creative path.
“I’m very strong-minded and I needed to have the freedom to do what I wanted,” she said. She said Fashion Design Chair Nasheli Ortiz-González encouraged her to be herself, but also helped her channel her creative energies in a constructive way.
“I feel like she has helped me a lot with focusing myself on what I want to do,” said Brown, who has attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. “Before, I was like, I don’t know how I’m going to do what I want to do after I leave (Moore). Then I met Nasheli – she’s a conceptual designer, and that’s what I am. It means a lot to me that I was able to find where I fit in in the industry.”
Brown’s collection for the Century 21 Stores presents S/S 2019 Fashion Show on May 17 is called Submerged Beauty. One of the pieces – a multi-colored full body suit in an abstract patchwork of brush strokes and paint splotches that covers the face, hands and feet – was selected to be used on all promotional materials for the fashion show. She says the garment represents people’s struggles with mental health problems, including her own.
“I watched my mom go through her own mental health issues,” she said. “I feel like people don’t pay attention to that as much as we should. I’m always talking about these issues, and I want to communicate this through my fashion.”
The garment’s beauty exemplifies the ability to love yourself and everything that comes with you, she said.
“Everything on that body suit, the images, they’re my mess, they’re your mess, it’s our mess,” she said. “It’s meant to say we all have messes and at the end of the day, we are all beautiful.”